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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Simply Balanced Sparkling Peach Mango Juice Beverage

I think the only reason I didn't enjoy this drink quite as much as the Cranberry Cherry and Grapefruit Juice drinks is because it's just a bit unfamiliar to me. The grapefruit version was not just similar to, but an improvement upon, Wink, Squirt, Fresca, or any other citrus soda. The cranberry version was vaguely reminiscent of cranberry ginger ale to me. A comparison doesn't immediately pop into mind for this juice-sweetened beverage.

I like peach in pretty much any context. I like chunks of actual mango fruit with chili powder, but mango-flavored products are hit or miss. Although I think this drink might have been stronger had Target just aimed for a "peach" flavor, it's definitely not bad the way it is. Plus, adding "mango" to the title of a product makes it sound so much more exotic, don't you think?

As is the case with all of these new Simply Balanced drinks, I think the really brilliant thing about this product is that it's totally juice-sweetened. I'm really not sure why this trend hasn't caught on on a much bigger scale than it has. I'm sure it's a tad more expensive to use juice than high fructose corn syrup, but I think most people would be willing to shell out a tiny bit more money if they knew how much better it was for them.

I'm gonna give this product 7 stars, because I definitely liked the other flavors a little better, but it's really probably more like 7 and a half. Definitely worth a purchase.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Archer Farms Sriracha Potato Chips

In a previous post, I mentioned that I'm a big fan of Sriracha. And fortunately for these chips, they taste a lot more like the tangy Thai condiment than the Garlic, Ginger & Sriracha Wontons did.

These chips are spicy, like a product with the word "Sriracha" in its title should be. They have all the great qualities of kettle-cooked homestyle chips, but with a massive extra kick of flavor. They're very crispy, and if you pay attention, you can taste that traditional kettley, potato-y taste underneath the fermented zest of Sriracha.

It leaves your tongue tingling for a few minutes after consumption. And I mean that in the best way possible. I'm looking forward to trying that new Subway Sriracha Melt with these chips on the side. I'm pretty sure I've seen a Lay's brand Sriracha chip, which I haven't tried yet, but I can't imagine them being much better than these.

If you like spicy foods, but you're not familiar with Sriracha sauce, this might be a good "gateway" food for you. It's definitely not like Mexican chili powder or Indian curry spice. It is its own flavor. But the familiarity of the potato chips might help with the transition into unknown territory.

Although this whole Sriracha craze is fairly new, I'm hoping products like this are here to stay. My wife was a fan as well.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Archer Farms Pumpkin Spice Instant Oatmeal

Other than the extremely unique pumpkin salsa, we've had a difficult time finding pumpkin products and other seasonal treats at our two local Target stores. This is only the second one we've discovered. And trust me, we've been looking. Just check out the dozens of pumpkin reviews we've done on What's Good at Trader Joe's?

This product isn't particularly complicated. There are no bits of pumpkin or chunks of pumpkintacular spiciness floating throughout the product. It looks just like regular oatmeal.

And it only tastes slightly more pumpkinny than it looks. There's just a hint of pumpkin and very little, if anything, in the way of traditional pumpkin spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice.

On one hand, that could afford someone a golden opportunity to add his own spices and tailor the flavor to his own taste buds, but on the other hand, lazy dudes who can't cook like me would like some "expert" to add the spices in for me in logical proportions before I even open the box. Lo and behold, the ingredients list doesn't mention any spices. I just think that's weird not to throw in a little cinnamon at least.

But on the plus side, there aren't many ingredients at all, and that means it's good-ish for me, right? Also, it's sufficiently sweet to make it palatable, regardless of its low pumpkinosity levels. Furthermore the sweetness comes from "sugar," not from HFCS or weird chemicals. And the texture is, well, you all know what the texture of oatmeal is like. The box adds these words of wisdom: "For thicker oatmeal, add less water OR more water for thinner oatmeal."

Well, duh!

I give this product 6 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Simply Balanced Sparkling Cranberry Cherry Juice Beverage

A short while back, I looked at the Grapefruit Juice equivalent of this stuff. In my opinion, it's pretty amazing.

This cranberry version isn't too far behind. It stands to reason that if you prefer cranberry juice over grapefruit juice like my wife does, you'll actually like this one a little better. I, however, prefer grapefruit juice. Furthermore, I think the aforementioned Grapefruit Juice Beverage approximates an actual citrus soda more than this drink approximates any previously-established beverage.

That is to say: it is its own thing...and that's not a bad thing. But if I had to compare it to something I've tried before, I'd say it's similar to Cranberry Ginger Ale, but like its citrusy sibling, the thing that really makes it stand out is that there's absolutely no high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, these drinks are only sweetened with fruit juice.

And don't think it tastes exactly like cranberry juice either. It's much sweeter than that, thanks to the white grape juice and apple juice. And of course, it's carbonated like a soda.

I've now tried 3 out the 4 flavors I saw available at my Target. They're all highly-drinkable, but this is my second-favorite one so far.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Archer Farms Raspberry Crème Brûlée Granola

Target figured out that people were buying those 99 cent bags of cereal to try all the delicious-looking new flavors, so they discontinued them apparently, and are now forcing people to invest something in the ballpark of $3.50 to find out if a flavor is good or not.

Fortunately, this one is. As was the case with a previous selection or two, we basically just have granola dressed up with a few fixin's and bells and whistles, but somehow, in this case, it wasn't as much of a let-down.
It really wasn't a let-down at all, in fact. It actually tastes like raspberries because there are those freeze-dried cereal raspberries all through it—in fairly decent numbers, I might add—and if you try really hard, you can actually detect a distinctly crème brûlée-esque flavor. To use some wine critic terminology, the crème brûlée is most prominent in the finish of the cereal, while the attack is distinctly raspberry-ish. It's "sensual, yet cerebral." Not really. What the heck does that even mean, anyway?

The raspberries felt less like styrofoam than cereal box fruit usually does. The granola was sweet, yet otherwise run-of-the-mill, the same as every other fancy AF cereal we've seen so far. There were a few massive clusters of granola, particularly at the top of the box, and farther down, the chunks were smaller.

Sonia was a big fan, too, so I know it's not just me. I can more confidently recommend this cereal than any other we've looked at so far.

I give this granola 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Archer Farms Sesame Teriyaki Lunch Bowl

I almost gave up on the lunch bowls. They've been really bad. I took a long break from reviewing them because each one I tried grossed me out.

But after months of avoiding them, I decided to give them another whirl. I saw this happy little morsel staring back at me from the shelf at Target, the price was right ($2.29, though prices may vary), and I snatched it up for one of my lunches this week. And for the first time since we started this blog, I don't regret it. This is hands down the best lunch bowl we've seen from Archer Farms thus far. See also Bacon Carbonara, Kung Pao Noodles, and Southwest Couscous.

But saying this product is better than the other lunch bowls we've tried isn't really sayin' that much. This bowl still left a little to be desired. It was far too salty. And it could have used some add-ins or little herbs that float around in the broth or something to give the texture a bit more oomph.

I do have to say, though, the taste was very good overall. It tasted like teriyaki. Granted, it's pre-packaged, cheap store brand, dehydrated powdered teriyaki—but it's passable teriyaki nonetheless, and it comes closer to quality than most of these shelf-stable noodle dishes do. You can taste sesame, and there are plenty of noodles. I poured them in a ceramic bowl and ate them with chopsticks to cut down on the cheapo factor. It actually kinda felt and tasted like a civilized meal. Considering the price, I have to say this is worth a try. It definitely beats Top Ramen.

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Archer Farms Zen Party Trail Mix

It's your moment of zen for the day.

This is the Asian equivalent of the previously reviewed Tex Mex Trail Mix. They're similar in that they both have sesame sticks, they're both really dry, and they both have random nuts in them. But I personally prefer this one, because I love wasabi and wasabi peas.

Peanuts wouldn't really have worked here, but the almonds and cashews blended in brilliantly. They added a meatiness to the trail mix that made it much more complete than it would have been sans nuts. Even the sesame sticks were a welcome addition, even though I complained about their presence in the Tex Mex Mix. I think sesame stuff just works with Asian food in general. It offsets the significant spiciness of the mix. And it's not just the wasabi peas that have some heat. The rice crackers seem to have a little kick to them as well.

The rice crackers are somewhat smooth, and they have a unique texture that's hard to describe. They're crispy and crunchy, but also delicate in a way. They do taste like rice, but it's not a bland flavor at all.

In terms of fat and calories, it's right in the middle of what we've seen so far with Archer Farms trail mixes. It's filling and easy to transport, but if you eat this stuff out on the trails, make sure you have extra water, because it'll make you hella thirsty. It's also the loudest trail mix we've ever reviewed. So don't be surprised if by eating it you scare away all the wildlife.

Sonia is a big fan of this mix, too.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Simply Balanced Sparkling Grapefruit Juice Beverage

Ever had Wink, Squirt, or Fresca? This stuff is just like any of those, but better for you and, in my humble opinion, better tasting.

It sparkles like a soda, and it has a citrus fruit flavor, but it tastes like they dumped an extra half cup of grapefruit juice into a can of one of the aforementioned citrus-flavored beverages. They also infused it with apple juice, so the resulting product is not only more tart, but also sweeter.

I had a nasty soda addiction for a good part of my life. I always had to have one with any meal. I think all the high fructose corn syrup did irreparable damage to my digestive system. I still have a soda from time to time, and I often have an energy drink for breakfast, but I'm always on the lookout for sweet beverage options that won't kill me as quickly as Coke or Pepsi.

I think they're trying to market these Simply Balanced beverages as semi-healthy soda alternatives. They were on sale, two for $5. I hope that doesn't mean they're having a hard time selling them, and thus, that they may be in danger of being discontinued, because these things are excellent. They had four flavors. I tried this one and one other, and enjoyed both.

Four little mini-cans come in each box. I'm not a huge fan of the smaller can size, because I always want more. But I get the whole "portion control" thing. And I guess on at least one occasion, I stopped at one little baby can, which prevented me from putting 90 more unnecessary calories into my body, which I suppose, in the end is a good thing.

I give this drink 9 out of 10 stars.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Simply Balanced Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips

I guess I don't really need to review these because I already examined Archer Farms White Corn Tortilla Chips, but hey, these are organic, and they have pretty new packaging, plus Target slapped the fancy new "Simply Balanced" label on them, so let's take a look shall we?

These are the chips I ate with the Pumpkin Harvest Salsa, and they paired up quite nicely if you ask me. I wanted a clean, simple flavor so the harvesticity of the salsa would shine through. And it did. I'm getting kinda good at this "foodie-hack" thing. FYI, harvesticity is a noun which means "Flavor or essence associated with harvest foods, such as pumpkin or squash."

I went ahead and considered the organicness of this product and upgraded the score to an 8. The AF white corn chips only got a 7. They must be jealous. And honestly, I'm not even sure they're still available.

Is the nutrition information too small for you? If it is, just go ahead and click on the image to enlarge it.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Archer Farms Pumpkin Harvest Salsa

We finally found a pumpkin product at Target!

It's a unique salsa. I'll give it that. But I wasn't quite sure how well anyone could pull off pumpkin salsa. And just as I had feared, their strategy involved creating a condiment that doesn't taste all that much like pumpkin.

Granted, it tastes more like pumpkin than any other salsa I've ever had, but that's not really saying much. More than pumpkin, I taste tomato, and that's to be expected, since tomato and tomato derivatives are the main ingredients of this and most other salsas. But I also taste more butternut squash than pumpkin. And that's not so expected. But it's certainly not a bad thing, either.

To me, this tastes like a combination of traditional salsa and butternut squash soup. There is a hint of pumpkin puree, but it gets overshadowed in the mix. There's a fair amount of spiciness, mostly from the jalapenos as far as I could tell. The label claims a "medium" level of heat, and I'd say that's pretty accurate. I've never had a spicy pumpkin product before, but in this case, it actually kind of works. There are whole corn kernels, which really add to the texture, but not only that, they create a sort of "flavor bridge" between the traditional spicy salsa and the butternut squash and pumpkin flavors. Corn works exceptionally well as an ingredient in spicy salsas and it adds a lot to butternut squash soup.

In summary, if you think pumpkin and butternut squash sound like they could work in a moderately spicy salsa, then you should deffo check this stuff out. I assume it's a seasonal flavor, so it might not be around much longer. I think it would have benefited from some more pumpkin puree, but that's probably just nitpicking.

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Market Pantry Caramel Corn Bite-Sized Rice Snacks

When I was a young lad, allergic to a plethora of common foods including wheat, my parents would give me rice cakes to snack on. Most kids would turn up their noses at the blandness of rice cakes, but I grew to like them since I didn't have that many options.

Back then, there weren't many different flavors like there are now. We certainly didn't have caramel corn rice cakes. But now, there are almost as many different rice cake varieties as there are flavors of potato chips.

And like potato chips, I'm not sure these lend themselves to dessert-ish flavors. As much as I still like rice cakes in general, I definitely have them filed away under the "salty snack" file in my brain. They go well with cheeses, herbs, and barbecue-ish flavors. But this product is a good example of why they don't work as well as sweet snacks.

The texture of these cakes is a little too rigid. It almost feels like they've been laminated. It's a plastic kind of feeling. They're both salty and sweet like you might expect from traditional caramel corn (and yes, there's both rice and corn in this product) but the sweet dominates, I would say. The caramel flavor is prevalent, but it doesn't taste like fresh caramel. It tastes fake to me.

Originally, we were going to focus only on Archer Farms and Simply Balanced foods, but there are so many things in the Market Pantry line that might be worthy of reviews, that we are considering checking them out from time to time. Although, in my experience—and this product is no exception—I feel like MP products might take the backseat to AF products as a rule.

I give these rice snacks 6 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Archer Farms Sun-Dried Tomato & Grilled Chicken Flatbread Pizza

This is the least dessert-ish of the AF flatbreads we've sampled thus far: the Chocolate & Strawberry one being at the sweet end of the spectrum, and the Pear & Gorgonzola one being somewhere in the middle.

This one could be served as dinner or as an appetizer. It sits a bit heavy in the stomach, and the tomato flavor is pretty strong for me, and for those reasons, I would say it works better as an appetizer. But some people would probably disagree.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes, but cooked, stewed, or dried tomatoes I'm okay with. I also like most tomato derivatives like marinara sauce, ketchup, and tomato soup. The sun-dried tomatoes on this product are plentiful, and they taste a good bit like raw tomatoes. It wasn't a deal-breaker for me, but I think I would have preferred just regular old pizza sauce. You tomato-lovers would probably enjoy them. They're basically tomaisins, the tomato equivalent of raisins, with a comparable shrivel-factor, texture, and size.

Thus far, pretty much all AF pizza and flatbread doughs are apparently created equal. So, no surprises with the crust. There were little pockets of mozzarella and Gouda here and there, and there was a good amount of diced chicken breast. All the elements combined to make a nice, fresh-tasting chicken pizza. I'd say the product is a little too big for one person to eat in one sitting, and yet it's not big enough for a meal for two. So again, it works best as an appetizer in my opinion. You could probably couple it with soup and/or salad to make a well-balanced dinner.

I think it was around five bucks, and it heats in less than 15 minutes. All in all, it's not a bad purchase, though not quite as novel as the other flatbreads we've tried.

I give this flatbread 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Archer Farms Garlic, Ginger & Sriracha Cream Cheese Wontons

Over the last few years, I've grown to love Sriracha. It's a fermented hot sauce from Thailand, and it's delicious. It's also tangy, red, and very spicy.

But I'm not sure what it has to do with this product, because these appetizers taste nothing like the Sriracha I know. There's a hint of spiciness, but it's not even a fraction of the heat from one teaspoon of Sriracha.

But don't get me wrong, this product isn't bad. It just doesn't particularly taste like Sriracha to me. Garlic and ginger, yes. Cream cheese, yes. In fact, there are so many different flavors present, it's one of the most complex-tasting hors d'oeuvres I've ever had. It's spicy, sweet, sour,
garlicky, salty, tangy, and creamy all at the same time. It's an extremely complicated conglomeration of essences all coming at you at the same time.

I thought it would be less confusing for my poor tongue if I tasted just the wontons without the sauce. And it was. But I definitely like them better with the sauce. It's like shock and awe for the tongue.

You have to be pretty open-minded to try and enjoy something like this. The closest approximation I can think of might be the Habanero Lime Wontons. Not that they taste the same as these wontons, but both products are uncategorizable, unique, and pretty tasty.

I know I've been stuck giving every product a 7 or an 8 for quite a while now. And I'm torn between the two for these things. I think I'll go with a 7, just because I think I'd take the aforementioned Habanero Lime dealies over these guys. But I suppose you might like these better if'n you consider yourself a garlic kinda person as opposed to a habanero kinda person.

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Archer Farms Sweet & Spicy Barbecue Lattice-Cut Kettle Chips

These are very similar to my least favorite chips ever, except a thousand times better. They're better because they're lattice-cut, and because they don't have a weird piggy flavor to them. They are indeed sweet. These are the sweetest barbecue chips I've ever had. On the other hand, they're not all that spicy—and I certainly wouldn't have minded a bit more spice. But we'll forgive them for that, because these are still pretty amazing chips.

Ever wonder why some chips are labeled "bbq," and others "barbeque," and still more "barbecue"? It makes one wonder which is the preferred spelling. I'm guessing that most of you do not wonder about such things unless you studied English in college like I did and have some weird, nerdy spelling fetish.

But that's neither here nor there. We're here to talk about food. And these chips are very crispy, very salty, and fairly pungent in the flavor department. They almost have a ketchupy taste to them, but just a tad more tangy. We've had some other decent Archer Farms potato chips recently, and while they're not particularly good-for-you like some of their Simply Balanced chips, they're starting to make us think Archer Farms has the salty, flavorful, snackable chip thing down to a science.

I'd try these unless you're looking for something truly spicy, or if you're averse to very sweet chips.

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Archer Farms Fennel Sausage & Roasted Peppers Pizza

It's been a while since we've reviewed a pizza. I was in the mood for something hearty, and this looked like the perfect selection, so I yoinked it right out of my Target's freezer. It was the last one in there, so I'm lucky I got there when I did.

I wasn't familiar with fennel sausage until I tried this product. It's apparently pretty similar to another kind of sausage that I am familiar with: chorizo. In both taste and texture, the two seem very much alike to me. They both work well as chopped up little dicey chunks, they're both full of spices and flavor, and they both have a similar texture. Of course, the spices in the fennel sausage tend to be European, particularly Italian, and although chorizo has European roots also, the varieties I've tried are full of Latin spices, particularly Mexican.

I've never been a big sausage fan, but I find both chorizo and fennel to be palatable. I'll try the wurst from German festivals, but I'm not into the American Jimmy Dean breakfast stuff so much.

As far as the pizza was concerned, it was good overall, don't get me wrong. I was just craving more tertiary toppings with this one. The sausage was good. The roasted peppers were fine. But I wanted extra toppings like onions, olives, and jalapenos on this one for some reason. Also, the cheese could have been more prevalent and there could have been a thicker layer of tomato sauce. But that could be said about most AF pizzas.

During my little research session, I also learned that fennel sausage is especially appropriate to serve during fall harvest months. Yay! What a happy accident. I love it when I eat foods at the correct time of year. That being said, I should also mention that I've heard rumors of Archer Farms pumpkin products. I shall be hunting these down on my next Target run. Stay tuned for pumpkin reviews!

I give this pizza 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Simply Balanced Apricot Fruit Strips

When I was a boy, I had a dog named Apricot. She was an apricot-colored toy poodle. I chalk the unoriginality of the name up to the fact that I was only six years old when we got her. But she was a great dog, and she died while I was away at college, just shy of her 16th birthday. She's now buried in my parents' backyard in what used to be a small vegetable garden, with a little gravestone marker with her name and the years 1985 - 2001.

Whenever I hear the word "apricot," I think about her. But that being said, I was never really a fan of apricot the fruit. I would often try apricot-flavored things, thinking that it would be fun to have something with the same name as my dog, but it seldom was. I usually wound up disappointed and would ask my dad to trade my apricot-flavored thing for a cherry-flavored thing or an apple-flavored thing.

But I guess my tastes have matured, because I thought these apricot-flavored fruit strips were really tasty. Or maybe it's because less than 2% of the product is made with apricot. The rest! The orange-ish color goes a long way into fooling you that it's really honestly made of apricot. And there's an undeniable hint of something apricot-ish. But virtually all of the sweetness comes from apple.

And sweetness coming from apples is better than sweetness coming from most other forms of sugar. So I'm not complaining. These strips are low in fat and calories, and like other fruit snacks we've reviewed, they're hella sticky.

All in all, these are great, healthy snacks. It might be my nostalgic love of old Apricot talking, but I think I liked these even a little better than the recently reviewed Raspberry Lemonade Ropes.

Any other dog lovers out there? Click here to watch my current pups review a Trader Joe's product. Should they start doing Boots & Barkley brand reviews?

I give these apricot strips 8 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Archer Farms Garden Vegetable Ranch Potato Chips

I've become entirely too dependent on packaging illustrations when it comes to critiquing food products. But that's the point of pretty packaging. Marketers know that they can cover up a dearth of quality in the food with creative wording, colorful pictures, and catchy slogans. Now, I'm not necessarily saying these particular chips lack quality. I'm just saying that their aesthetically-pleasing packaging doesn't hurt. I've never claimed to be a true food connoisseur. I'm just an average joe who likes to eat food and be honest about what I think works and doesn't work; a "foodie-hack" if you will.

Like with this particular product, there are pictures of carrots, tomatoes, and onions on the bag to let us know that those are the "garden vegetables" that we're tasting in the ranch sauce on the chips. But I would submit to you that if you can take these chips, sans the packaging, and pick out carrots, tomatoes, and onions in particular, and tell us all that these chips have undertones of those particular vegetables, that you should probably be writing this blog instead of me. Because although I could taste a vague vegetabliness
about the chips, I think it's quite possible that I'm simply reacting to the packaging. There's definitely some ranch flavor, but if I'm honest about what my taste buds are telling me, there's not a whole lot beyond that.

The chips themselves are fairly good. They're slightly firmer than the average potato chip. They're salty, they're crispy, and they taste like potatoes. But even the ranch flavor was a little too subtle in my opinion. So, I guess that summarizes my feelings about these chips. They're decent classic potato chips, but they could use a small boost in the ranch department and a very large boost in the garden veggie department. They're certainly not bad, but why would I buy these over my old standby classic potato chips? The packaging? If you're into very subtly-flavored potato chips, these might be right up your alley.

I give these chips 7 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Simply Balanced Fruit & Nut Bars

These bars are a pseudo-healthy balance of saltiness, sweetness, and heartiness. The main ingredient is "mixed nuts," which can't be that bad for you, and although we're looking at "corn syrup" as the second ingredient, I'd definitely rather see that than HFCS, which thankfully neither this product nor any other Simply Balanced product contains.

With 9g of fat per bar, they're not exactly a light option, but guess what? They actually taste good! And nuts and dried fruit are always good for sustained energy, so overall, this isn't a bad choice for snacking on the go.

The texture is pretty good, too. There's a slightly sticky, honey-esque glaze that holds all the fruit and nuts together, but it's not so thick that it leaves a residue in your mouth, unlike some other brands of granola bars I've had.

I could see these bars being a regular purchase at our home since they're filling enough to curb in-between meal cravings, they're portable enough to take with us on our weekend jaunts and adventures, and they're not going to make us ridiculously fat. They taste like sweetened nuts and dried fruit—with soybeans thrown in there somehow. Don't ask me how that works...but it does in this case. This is one of the better Simply Balanced products that we've tried so far.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Archer Farms Blueberry Nut Trail Mix

I finally decided to break the bank and buy this $7 bag of blueberries and nuts. That's a lot of money for a bit of trail mix.

But I suppose it's worth it. Nuts are pretty pricey as it is, and I've never had such juicy, sweet, shelf-stable blueberries in my whole life. Archer Farms did add a little sugar to the berries to enhance their sweetness, but other than that, there are exactly four ingredients in this trail mix: almonds, walnuts, pecans, and blueberries.

All four elements are well-represented and balanced in the bag, and they all blend together pretty well. I've never been a huge fan of walnuts, but pecans
and almonds are my favorites. The blueberries are a tad shriveled, and they resemble raisins, but there's no mistaking that taste; it is distinctly blueberry. Overall, the flavor combination is great, it's full of natural energy for when you're out on the trails. And as the "heart healthy" label suggests, each ingredient is excellent for combating heart disease, not that that's something I'm worried about at this point in my life, but I guess it's never too early to start eating a little better.

Other AF trail mixes are in the $5 range, which isn't cheap, but I'm still a little mystified as to why this one is yet $2 more than those. Don't get me wrong, it's a premium product. I'm just not sure I'll keep shelling out seven bones for something so relatively small. But if you like blueberries and nuts, by all means, check this one out.

I give this product 8 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Simply Balanced Tuscan Herb Multigrain Crisps

Akin to other whole grain snacks like Multigrain Wheat Thins, these Tuscan herb-flavored crisps are head and shoulders above the recently reviewed Sun-Dried Tomato Popcorn Chips. These crisps are firmer, they have more flavor, and they're more filling, yet the nutrition information of both products is virtually identical.

Just a week or so ago, my wife discovered a delicious Tuscan-themed snack in the vending machine in our building. The same chips popped up at our local grocery store, too. The brand was Good Natured, and we both fell in love with them quickly. But I've gotta say these Simply Balanced crisps give the Good Natured brand a run for its money.

They're full of crunchy whole grains, and as I mentioned before, they're much more flavorful than popcorn chips. There's even a little heat from the Italian spices. It's certainly not enough to "burn" your mouth, but it does give the product an unexpected kick.

I haven't tried it yet, but I'm guessing these chips would go great with virtually any cheese dip or salsa, and I can also see them going well with salads and soups. I could absolutely feature myself buying these on a regular basis. In my opinion, chips don't get much more impressive than this.

I give this product 9 out of 10 stars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Archer Farms Red Velvet Cake Cookies

It has recently come to my attention that red velvet cake is very similar to just a regular chocolate cake with red coloring added. Although, I've read that some red velvet cakes are actually vanilla cakes with red food coloring added. Furthermore, the coloring is often a type of deep red cocoa, which of course affects not only the color, but also the flavor of the cake.

But more than this, I can taste a difference between red velvet cake and chocolate cake, and in almost every instance, I prefer the red velvet. And these cookies most certainly taste like a red velvet cake, but unfortunately, it's not a very good one.

The overall flavor isn't horrible. Imagine a very stale red velvet cake that's been sitting out for days. It just tastes kind of old and weird. The icing is a nice addition, although it's not white chocolate exactly. It's just "white icing." Who knows what that means? I would describe it as something in-between white chocolate and fake cream cheese, but much more stiff.

And that brings me to my next point: the texture.

It was just way the heck off.

If you've ever—you know, just out of curiosity—eaten a dog biscuit ...well, that's pretty much the texture you get here. It's a dry, crumbly, stiff texture. They tried to keep the product moist by wrapping it in plastic and stuffing each cookie way down in its own plastic slot, but to no avail. The goofy packaging just made it more difficult to remove the cookies from the box.

These cookies were a nice idea. But that's as far as I'll go. Again, the flavor isn't atrocious, just the texture and feel are. I know that I'll never make this purchase again, and I suggest you do the same unless you really love red velvet and you're feeling extra lucky. It's always possible I just got a bad batch.

But I'm thinking that's not the case. Until Target has an actual bakery right there in their grocery section like some big markets do, I don't think I'll be happy with their red velvet cookies.

I give this product 5 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Simply Balanced Mixed Berry Smoothie Bites

A smoothie in a bag, huh? This product is unique to say the least, but I'm still not really sure what to make of it. It's like the illegitimate lovechild of a trail mix and a smoothie, with some cereal DNA mixed in there somehow.

The whole thing has a strange texture. The little dehydrated strawberry slices are very similar to ones I've seen in certain cereals, like Kashi Strawberry Fields for example. They're styrofoam-like and sour at first, but then they sort of turn sweet and smooth in your mouth. It's a very strange sensation.

Likewise, the little yogurt discs are chalky, almost gritty, at first. But they give way to a more realistic yogurt texture and flavor as you chew them, and they dissolve in your mouth in a peculiar way. They're not "yogurt chips" like you'll find in certain Archer Farms trail mixes. They're a whole new animal to me. 

Once all the ingredients dissolve in your mouth, I must say there is a distinct similarity to a fresh berry smoothie, but by the time everything has gelled in your 98.6° saliva, it's no longer cold like a real smoothie would be, and you might already be a bit grossed out by that point.

Another huge drawback with this item is its three dollar price tag. Way too much for way too little. I easily ate the whole bag in one sitting. This is nothing more than a snack. And unless it comes down in price, I can't see myself ever buying this product again, although I might check out one of the other flavors just for the sake of reviewing it.

Now don't get me wrong, this product doesn't taste terrible. It's just not my cup of tea. If you think a dry berry smoothie sounds like a delicious snack, by all means, try it. I just think there are a lot better options in the food aisles at Target.

I give this product 6 out of 10 stars.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Simply Balanced Raspberry Lemonade Twisted Fruit Ropes

Just so they could add yet another term for "fruit snack" to our already cluttered and confusing food vocabulary, the good people at Archer Farms decided to call these "ropes." Not strips, or roll-ups, or twists. Ropes. Almost as appetizing as "fruit leather."

But if the product is good, of course we look past such trivial matters of semantics. Fortunately, they are good. They're individually packaged, relatively small, and they make a decent tide-me-over snack. I guess since we're purchasing the healthier "Simply Balanced" foods now we're all conscious of portion control and such. At 60 calories and 0g of fat per rope, you won't have to worry about one or two of these making you fat.

I think the inclusion of the word "lemonade" in the title of this product is mostly a marketing gimmick, although the more I think about it, there was a hint of something citrusy in the mix that might have made these a little
more tangy than just raspberry alone. Ah, there it is, "lemon juice concentrate."

But mostly, these are just sweet. There's tartness there for sure, but as you can see on the ingredients list, the main ingredients are actually apple puree and apple juice. And like the previously reviewed fruit peels, these puppies are overly moist and sticky. Fortunately, the wrapping can be peeled down as you eat the product, thus protecting your fingers from being slathered in wet appley goodness.

Good as they may be, it seems like we're just looking at a repackaging of AF's already popular strips and peels. With that being the case, we're giving these fun little twisted ropes a similar score.

I give this product 7 out of 10 stars.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Archer Farms Tiramisu Gelato

You're going to want to try this.

It's a no-brainer. I was skeptical at first, but this is tied for the best-tasting tiramisu I've ever had. And it's not even really tiramisu. It's gelato.

The first time I ever had tiramisu was in Los Angeles, about eight years ago. I was with a couple of friends, and one of them brought along this crazy French photographer guy I had never met before. He discovered that one other person in our group and I had both never tried real tiramisu, so he took us to this expensive Italian restaurant on Melrose. I insisted that I didn't want any, but he bought all of us dishes of the dessert anyway. It was like $10 for three small bites. It was ridiculous. But so good, it was almost worth the price tag.

Since then, I've tried it at a couple of less-swanky restaurants, and it has been sub-par every time. Until now.

As I mentioned before, the flavor of this gelato is excellent. The top layer tastes like the most rich's almost chocolatey. And the ice cream itself is buttery, creamy, sweet and vanilla-ish. Delicious.

There are a few swirls of the dark coffee goodness throughout the gelato, too. It's mixed-in at a pretty good ratio. There's a lot more of the plain golden ice cream, but the dark stuff is so rich, you don't need a lot of it.

The one weakness of this amazing dessert is a slight lack of texture. The creaminess of the ice cream is great, and the softness of the top layer is good...but real tiramisu is made with cookies. Ladyfingers.

If they had added ladyfinger cookies, or even just cookie bits soaked in coffee throughout the ice cream, they could have created the ultimate dessert. Also, there's carrageenan in it, which is bad for you. But it's so low on the ingredients list that we all could have overlooked that.

But seriously, if version 2.0 has little ladyfinger cookie bits all through it, you can bet I'll have heaps of this stuff stocked in my freezer all the time. Even as it stands, this is one killer gelato.

I give the tiramisu gelato 9 out of 10 stars.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Archer Farms Banana Walnut Trail Mix

This trail mix, along with the Cinnamon Raisin Mix, are labeled as "breakfast trail mixes," for those occasions in which you find yourself camping and then waking up right on the hiking trail I suppose. But just as I seldom actually eat trail mix on a literal hiking trail, I ate this trail mix at any hour of the day or packaging labels be darned. I'm a wild man. Don't try to constrain me with your serving suggestions or tell me when to eat my delicious trail mix!

My wife agrees. Good as it may be for breakfast, it's quite acceptable for second breakfast, luncheon, elevensies, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, fourthmeal, and midnight snack as well. We should know. It took us all of a day and a half to finish the bag...and we probably could have done it in a single sitting if we hadn't resisted the temptation.

Sonia says this has just replaced PB&J Trail Mix as her favorite so far. I agree. I think this one is tied with Cinnamon Raisin for my favorite.

It has a whole bunch of banana chips, big bready cookie-bite things, yogurt chunks, and walnuts. I'm not even a huge fan of walnuts, but for some reason they go great with banana...think banana bread....mmm yeah.

With the cookie bites and yogurt chunks, this trail mix is still a tad indulgent. If you're looking for a good healthy-ish mix, try the Sunny Cranberry. That would probably be my recommendation for people looking to stay on the leaner side of AF's trail mix selection.

I will eventually buy and a review a bag of the Blueberry Nut Trail Mix, but I'm still saving up for it. I think it's $7 a bag. Really. Will it be worth it? Stay tuned to find out!

Banana Walnut Trail Mix: 8 out of 10 stars.

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